Carmakers assess their plans amid Toyota rise

DETROIT: With the North American International Auto Show in Detroit taking place shortly after news hit that Toyota had broken into the "Big Three," the other car manufacturers were looking to the future while acknowledging the difficulty ahead.

DETROIT: With the North American International Auto Show in Detroit taking place shortly after news hit that Toyota had broken into the "Big Three," the other car manufacturers were looking to the future while acknowledging the difficulty ahead.

When Japanese automaker Toyota announced its sales on January 3, it, for the first time, sold the third most cars in America in 2006, displacing DaimlerChrysler for the bronze spot.

Shawn Morgan, senior manager of corporate and executive media relations at DaimlerChrysler, said the company's auto show focus would only address what it can control. The show took place this week.

"We don't chase market share and we're not chasing targets, we're all about creating opportunities," he said. "We have to be profitable. That's the bottom line. The way to do that is to move the metal."

Morgan said DamilerChrysler is debuting eight new products at the show and planned to spend its time there discussing the company's plan for global growth.

"Results so far provide a clear sign that our strategy is working," Morgan said.

Steve Harris, VP of global communications at GM, said the company's auto show message was that a turnaround is well under way and progress has been made over the past 12 months.

"Last year was a tough year for us, no question, but we made huge progress on an operating basis," Harris said. "A lot of things happened over the past 12 months that will assist us in becoming a more competitive and profitable company on a sustaining basis."

Sara Tatchio, North America auto show manager at Ford, said the company made sure to address last year's woes before the show so it could focus on the future.

"We spent a lot of time with reporters in the weeks before the show [to discuss 2006], so everybody was ready to talk about product," Tatchio said.

Tatchio said Ford wanted to express that it was focused on developing the cars and trucks people want. "Our road to turning things around is our product," she explained, "and we're here to talk about product."

GM, whose 2007 theme is to focus on design and technology, concentrated its show messaging heavily on the new Chevy Malibu and an electric-powered concept car called the Chevrolet Volt, but it discussed business issues as well.
Harris said some of GM's main talking points were the company's improved earnings and "landmark agreements with labor and salaried employees."

When asked what Toyota's gaining US market share meant for GM, Harris said "We don't dwell on it. If it [becomes number one], we'll strap on our helmets, come back, and fight to take it back the next day."

Even Toyota isn't gloating over the figures.

"I don't think customers care if you're number one, two, three, six, or what," said Wade Hoyt, Northeast public affairs manager at Toyota. "We want to be number one with our customers. If that takes us into the first position we'd be very proud, but it's not that we're out to get [anyone]."

Wes Brown, a partner at Iceology, a consumer research and trend consultancy, said the historic "big three" automakers need to stress their solvency to the media.

"From a consumer standpoint you don't even think about the "big three" when it comes to shopping for a car because they have been so poor at bringing out new, competitive, and exciting product," Brown said. "These things always tend to go in cycles. If you're [the "big three"], you're trying to get the message out to the media of 'Don't count us out. We've got the product coming, just give us time.'"

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